A study recently reported on by NPR showed that in 23 European countries, bicycles outsold cars last year. In the UK, 3 million bicycles were purchased, compared to just 2 million new cars. Similar numbers were found for nearly every other nation in the EU, with Belgium and Luxembourg being the only exceptions. Bicycles outsold cars in Spain for the first time ever on record, and in Italy for the first time since World War II.
A decrease in car sales can somewhat be attributed to the economic recession throughout Europe, but there are other trends at work here too. An increasing number of young people from what is referred to as the “Millennial Generation”, are simply not interested in buying cars. Young people are returning to cities and nearby suburbs that can easily be accessed by walking, public transit, and of course by bicycle.
In the US, the percentage of eligible drivers under the age of 34 that do not have a driver’s license was 26% in 2010, up from 21% in 2001. The same 16-34 age group took 24-percent-more bike trips than in 2001, walked to more destinations, and the distance traveled by public transit increased 40 percent. Of course the recession has affected the ability of many young people to find good paying jobs, but it’s not as if they aren’t spending, they just choose to spend on smartphones, laptops, and even expensive bicycles (I know that’s what I spend on). And transportation projects in recent years that have provided better infrastructure for walking and cycling certainly haven’t hurt the trend.
While economic conditions are one of the driving factors behind the apparent move away from a car-centric society, the price of gas is only going to rise, the cost of living is only going to increase, and our population is only to grow. A return to the golden era of the automobile seems unlikely, and no one can deny that young people now are more aware of their carbon footprint and environmental impact than ever before.
We think it’s a good thing. Less people in cars, and more people on bikes, public transit, and walking sounds like progress to me.